“People tell you who they are, but we don’t listen. Because we want them to be who we want them to be.”
In case you would like to know, that quote is from Mad Men, the greatest drama on television.
I’ve dissected that quote in my brain over and over again. I understand it on an intellectual level, but I wanted to really get what it meant on a more comprehensive and symbolic level and realize its implications in my own life.
I think what it really boils down to is expectation. Expectation of who we think or want a partner to be and our subsequent disappointment when they turn out to be something different, that is, themselves.
I’m not going to blame Disney or romantic comedies for putting some sort of fantasy relationship in our heads. I’m going to blame all of us as a whole for not being good listeners and ignoring red flags.
In acting class we study human behavior to its core. We learn that there are several factors and circumstances that can shape a person’s belief systems and lifestyle. That guy from North Carolina who moved to LA to do blue collar grip work for TV and film? He will probably still retain some of his Southern charm and values. He will probably also vote Republican and have no desire to extend himself beyond his line of work. He enjoys watching college football and relaxing on nights and weekends with a beer and some grilled food. That guy from New York who moved to LA to be a producer? He is probably impatient and pushy and always on the go. He is answering emails every 5 minutes. He is very social, but sometimes also superficial, because he is constantly trying to make connections and further his career. Of course I am generalizing, but you get the idea.
Someone’s career, hometown, age, upbringing, social status, religious and political views, and values will tell you everything you need to know about what you can expect from them in the future if you’re paying attention. This guy that I was interested in for a while in college was from bumble-fuck Indiana, drove a truck, loved guns and hunting, was a lineman for the football team, and listened to country music. He was dashingly handsome and we got along well on the surface, but it never would’ve worked. Not just because I hate country music and guns, but because the circumstances of where he came from and how he was raised tells me we would clash on an intellectual, spiritual, and emotional level.
So let’s say you like someone a lot who manages to have the same sorts of interests and values as you and is from a similar background. Congratulations. Once you’ve filtered out incompatibility, it’s important to see someone for what they can and are willing to offer you. If your expectation is marriage, don’t date the 23 year old singer of a band you love. If your expectation is financial stability, don’t date a loser who claims to be a writer but who never writes. If your expectation is someone who is extremely loyal and faithful, don’t date a famous professional athlete.
It’s not about being harsh or bitchy, it’s about knowing what you want and not wasting your time and emotional energy on someone who will let you down and leave you disappointed. You have to be very discerning and listen intently to what others tell you on a first date. Don’t come out of the gate with, “Do you want marriage and kids because if not then let’s just end it here”, but do make sure you are aware of all the information that is being presented.
One of my better qualities, that I picked up in my late 20’s, is my ability to recognize right away when someone isn’t right for me. My friends call it “way too picky”, but I call it being able to quickly perceive someone’s essence. Why should I waste my time with someone who isn’t who I want them to be? If they aren’t offering me what I need then there is no reason to give them more than one date.
This guy that I used to work with and whom I always shared a sexual chemistry with, recently “asked me out”. (I put asked me out in parentheses because I was under the impression that that was his intention.) He said he marked the day we discussed on his calendar and was very excited. The day came and I hadn’t heard from him and it was already 5pm. I texted him to see what the plan was and he informed me that he was with a client shooting photos and he would get back to me. 8:30 rolls around and I decided to meet a girlfriend for a drink because, fuck him. He texts me at 9:30 telling me he wanted to come meet up with us, with his client in tow. My friend had to leave, but the 3 of us proceeded to have a drunken night of debauchery. He told me all about how he was couch surfing and was really excited that at this point in his life he has nothing tying him down. We drunkenly made out at the end of the night and it was fun, but completely pointless.
24 year old me would’ve hung out with him again after that and slept with him several times and probably would’ve become attached and it would’ve ended with me demanding him to be my boyfriend. 30 year old me knows that it is a dead end road. I want a relationship. He wants to have fun. He didn’t tell me that, but the context clues told me all I need to know. So when he texted me the following week saying that we should hang out again, I politely declined.
I have a friend, we’ll call her Lexi, who jumped right from a separation from her husband to dating another man. The other man happens to be married. Of course he claims it is completely on the rocks and that he is on the way to getting a divorce, but he nonetheless is in a government recognized commitment with someone else. She chalks it up to the universe giving her what she really needs and so-fucking-what if the timing is wrong. This guy is telling Lexi (not literally of course) that he is a cheating piece of shit. He is telling her that he doesn’t value marriage or vows and that he is quick to trade-up to the next pretty young thing. He is selfish and impatient and wants to flee the ship when things get hard. Does it sound like the future is bright for the two of them?
Another friend of mine, we’ll call her Haley, is in love with this guy who just got out of a relationship. His wounds are super fresh and he feels emotionally broken. He really likes Haley and even asked her on a date and kissed her afterwards. But then he told her, “I’m just not ready to date again. I really like you but it’s just too soon.” So, even after this right-on-the-nose exposition that he gave her, she still loves to call me and say, “but he does x and y and I know he likes me and he came to my comedy show..” and blah blah. Honey, he said he wasn’t ready. Cut your losses and let him go. If you’re a masochist, keep him in your life as a friend whom you wish were more, otherwise stop holding unrealistic expectations over his head and move on.
You have to ask yourself what you want at all times in every facet of your life and constantly strive to seek that out. If your job isn’t giving you the raise that you think you deserve, then maybe your talents should be taken elsewhere. If a friend of yours is constantly flaking on every engagement you ask her to be a part of and it bothers you, stop asking her to hang out. People will constantly disappoint you if you let them. If you have enough wisdom to know that no one is perfect and that you aren’t going to jive with everyone, you will be much happier.
Stop trying to make people who you want them to be. Let them be who they are, and you be who you are, and find the one that matches naturally.
I’ll leave you with this quote from the amazing Meryl Steep:
“I no longer have patience for certain things, not because I’ve become arrogant, but simply because I reached a point in my life where I do not want to waste more time with what displeases me or hurts me. I have no patience for cynicism, excessive criticism and demands of any nature. I lost the will to please those who do not like me, to love those who do not love me and to smile at those who do not want to smile at me. I no longer spend a single minute on those who lie or want to manipulate. I decided not to coexist anymore with pretense, hypocrisy, dishonesty and cheap praise. I do not tolerate selective erudition nor academic arrogance. I do not adjust either to popular gossiping. I hate conflict and comparisons. I believe in a world of opposites and that’s why I avoid people with rigid and inflexible personalities. In friendship I dislike the lack of loyalty and betrayal. I do not get along with those who do not know how to give a compliment or a word of encouragement. Exaggerations bore me and I have difficulty accepting those who do not like animals. And on top of everything I have no patience for anyone who does not deserve my patience.”